The LTTE Supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran, has assured the Sri Lankan government that his organisation will enter into sincere talks to end the current military conflict and find a solution to the ethnic problem, according to the government's Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella.
"I am personally very satisfied with the commitment made. However, it will have to be discussed with the President (Mahinda Rajapaksa).
The government's response will come in due course," he told newsmen in Colombo on Wednesday.
"Twenty-five years of experience of backtracking by the LTTE makes us cautious about any assurances from it," he said, adding a note caution.
One of the main demands of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has been that Prabhakaran himself, personally, must give a "credible and verifiable" assurance that he will enter into unconditional and sincere talks.
Prabhakaran had said that he would be available, in some way, for consultations during the talks, Rambukwella said.
The LTTE chief had explained that because of security considerations, he could not be present at the talks venue itself.
The government understood this problem and was open to alternative arrangements for quick and credible consultations with him, Rambukwella said.
At the very least, Prabhakaran had agreed to meet the chief Norwegian Peace Envoy, Erik Solheim, he added.
The elusive Tiger chieftain has been avoiding Solheim for a long time, as indeed he has avoided all other leaders.
The government's spokesman refused to give any details about Prabhakaran's assurance, even if it was oral or in writing.
But apparently, the substance has been conveyed through the Norwegian facilitators, who had been in touch with the over-ground political wing of the LTTE.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had met Prabhakaran
The government spokesman hinted that the Indian spiritual guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Bangalore-based Art of Living Foundation, had met Prabhakaran on his visit to Kilinochchi on September 21 or 22.
But he refused to say if the guru had had a role in changing the mind of the Tiger chieftain.
He had flown in and out of Kiliniochchi in a Sri Lankan Air Force helicopter indicating that his mission had the green signal from both Colombo and Kilinochchi.
Apparently, the Norwegians came to know of this and felt bad that Prabhakaran had met the Godman but was refusing to meet them.
The guru had de-briefed the Sri Lankan government about his talks with the "LTTE hierarchy" in Kilinichchi, Rambukwella said.
But he refused to go into the substance of the guru's talks with the Tigers. All he would say was that he "preached peace" to the Tiger hierarchy.
Need for personal assurance from Prabhakaran
Explaining the government's insistence on a "personal and credible" assurance from Prabhakaran himself on the talks, Rambukwella said that the government was put off by the contradictory statements made by the various leaders of the LTTE at various times to suit exigencies of the moment.
"Just before the meeting of the Co-Chairs in Brussels, the Political Wing Leader SP Tamilselvan said that the LTTE was ready for unconditional talks.
The idea, clearly, was to give the impression of being good boys while the government was a set of naughty boys."
"The plan was to soften the Co-Chairs stand towards the LTTE."
"But after the Brussels communiqué, in which the terrorist group was unfairly equated with the democratically elected government of Sri Lanka, the LTTE's Military Spokesman, Rasiah Ilanthirayan announced conditions for talks," Rambukwella pointed out.
When the two sides were to meet in Oslo for talks on the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), the LTTE opted out at the last minute saying that it would not meet a delegation consisting only of Sri Lankan officials. It said it would talk to ministers only.
Colombo also did not know how much of authority the LTTE delegation had, to make decisions and commitments at the table.
It acutely felt the absence of the LTTE top brass, especially the Supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Reasons for Prabhakaran's assurance
Asked why Prabhakaran was now giving assurances, Rambukwella said that the terrorist leader knew that "his days were numbered."
There was mounting military pressure from the government, and also increasing international hostility and isolation to contend with.
"The international community, which till recently viewed the LTTE as either freedom fighters or rebels, is now seeing it as a terrorist group," the government spokesman pointed out.
The government was also making a sincere effort to solve the basic political problem, the Tamil problem, he added.
"After a long time, a Sri Lankan government is trying to get the opposition to join in the task of finding a solution to the ethnic question.
The Tamil people should seize this opportunity to come to a settlement," Rambukwella said.